Good afternoon and welcome to my first official post. One feature I’d like to try is a discussion of performances that I’ve been in or that I attend, and for starters I’m going to share one of mine from this past February.
It all started when I got a call from the director of the ballet school I’ve been frequenting, trying to shock–er,ease–my body back into shape from my company days. She had gotten a call from one of the directors of the city symphony orchestra about a concert they were holding in less than a week. On Valentine’s Day. In the local modern art museum. The event was called “Sweet Encounters: Music and Art” and was intended to be a casual, chamber music event with food, wine, art, and, as the symphony director had spontaneously decided–Tango.
Luckily I was free, and after a whirlwind couple days of calling around, talking to the chamber orchestra, and enlisting the help of two male partners, Jeff and Sven, we agreed to perform. The big risk, as it is with most shows, was the space. I knew the Everson Museum had an auditorium, but it didn’t sound like that was the performance venue. What was the floor made of? How large? Where would the audience be? If I’ve learned anything in my years of performing, the best attitude one can take is just to roll with the punches.
Jeff, Sven, and I drove to the museum in a horrendous, though not location-ally unusual, snowstorm on Valentine’s Day. We met the symphony director, an excitable, flighty woman, and she led us round and round the museum, introducing us to everyone we passed. The main orchestra was performing in the lobby, but we were dancing…elsewhere.
As venues go, it was one of my more unusual ones.
It was like a boxing ring—the audience watched from the balcony up above, while the chamber musicians, us dancers, and a giant mural occupied the lower, tiled square. My students know I always talk about “That Guy”—a quasi-fictional patron of the arts forced to observe from far afield, such that the performers must project all the way to him, not just to the people front and center orchestra. This space forced an extreme version of That Guy, with the audience being nearly vertically above, depending where we moved. Connecting with the audience was difficult as a result, but I tried to make them feel included on our bows.
The chamber orchestra consisted of a violin, a viola, a cello, and a bass. They played five songs; we danced to four, leaving the middle one out to rest. I managed to convince Sven and Jeff to make our final dance a three-way Tango, which garnered a few laughs—and not just when they both almost dropped me at the end.
The biggest take-away from the experience was a reminder to me how much I love performing to live music. In the ballet company we got to dance with orchestras here and there, and there is honestly something ineffably wonderful about the simultaneous creation of art. The string quartet was professional, talented, and most of all flexible in understanding what we as dancers needed. I was initially apprehensive about the tempos—did they know what “tango” from a ballroom perspective meant? A quick conversation proved we were on the same page—though in retrospect I wish I had suggested they NOT take every repeat in the sheet music. There is only so much lead/follow Tango we can do and still be interesting.
Five Second Summary? A marvelous multi-disciplinary concert that brightened a stormy Valentine’s Day.
Photo: Jeff Ting